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Odd Wisconsin Archive

The Parrot and the Crows

In 1871 the great P.T. Barnum came to Wisconsin and established his famous traveling show. Ten years later he merged with James Bailey's circus to become "The Greatest Show On Earth." For 20 years Barnum personally traveled the country with his animals, acrobats, and entourage of eccentrics. He was famous for flamboyant advertising, and when asked when he would quit the circus replied, "When all the fools are dead."

Dave Watt of Janesville worked with Barnum & Bailey and was the source of this story told to Society Museum director Charles Brown in 1937.

Barnum had a pet bird, a talking parrot that he kept leashed to a perch by the ticket booth at the entrance of one of the main tents. One day the bird got free from his perch and Watt and another employee were sent out to look for him. They had a horse and buggy and drove through the town where the show had stopped, asking everybody they saw about the lost parrot. Finally, at the edge of the town, they heard a flock of crows making a lot of noise in a corn field.

Tying their horse to the fence, Watt and his companion waded into the corn to investigate the cause of the commotion. There they found the terrified parrot clutching the top of a corn stalk, mobbed by crows flying all around, cawing and pecking at him.

And above the screeching of the crows they heard the parrot shouting, "Keep quiet! Don't crowd! One at a time please!"

Read more unpublished circus stories in the notes of W.P.A. field interviewers who collected folklore around the state in the late 1930s.

Wisconsin has a proud circus tradition. Experience it in the flesh at Circus World in Baraboo. Several historic buildings, exhibits and the giant screen circus theatre operate on weekdays throughout the winter.

:: Posted in on January 3, 2013
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